GUNTOWN, Miss. (AP) — Hope was fading that two young sisters abducted from their Tennessee home would be found alive two weeks after they vanished: Their kidnapper had already killed their mother and sister, and he was armed with a rifle, sawed-off shotgun and pistol as officers closed in.
Adam Mayes could have killed them days ago, could have left them in the woods as he fled for another hideout, could have shot them in desperation as he was surrounded by officers. Yet 12-year-old Alexandria and 8-year-old Kyliyah Bain went home to their father Friday alive, with no apparent injuries other than being tired, scared and itchy from poison ivy.
Beverly Goodman, the aunt of the slain mother, Jo Ann Bain, said she was relieved the girls were home but still saddened by the killings of Bain and Bain's 14-year-old daughter Adrienne.
"He's been missing for so long. How do you hide out from 350 million people?" Goodman said. "I thought they were going to find them dead — the girls and him — so I am very, very relieved that those girls are home and they're not dead, like I figured they were gonna be."
At one point, Mayes had claimed to be the girls' father. That may be why he spared them. It also may be that while he wanted to escape prosecution, he didn't believe the girls were better off dead. And he was close to the family, described as an uncle-like figure who smiled cheek-to-cheek with the girls in Facebook photos.
"He probably developed an attachment to them, and even the most vicious of killers can separate the world into people they care about, people they detest and people they don't care about," said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University.
Authorities said Mayes, 35, killed Jo Ann Bain and 14-year-old Adrienne on April 27 in Whiteville, Tenn. Mayes' wife, Teresa Mayes, is charged with murder in the killings. She told investigators she saw her husband kill the mother and oldest girl, then drove him, the younger children and the bodies to Mississippi, according to court documents. His mother, Mary Mayes, also is charged in the kidnapping but maintains she is not guilty.
Adam Mayes and the girls had holed up in some sort of wooden structure in the woods in Mississippi, some 90 miles from where the girls were kidnapped in Tennessee, said a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information. The area is popular for hunting.
An officer combing through the area spotted Alexandria Bain on Thursday evening about 100 yards behind a church. Officers yelled at Mayes to show his hands, but he pulled a pistol from his waistband and shot himself in the head, said Aaron T. Ford, special agent in charge of the FBI's Memphis, Tenn., office.
Many questions remained about what exactly happened: Investigators have not said whether Mayes spoke before killing himself, nor disclosed what the girls have told them. Authorities also have not said why Mayes may have wanted to kidnap the children or kill their mother and sister. And it wasn't known how they survived in the woods, nor how long they were there.
The girls were released from a hospital, officials said Friday, and reunited with relatives in Tennessee. Family spokesman David Livingston said their father, Gary Bain, was thrilled to have them back, but "you can understand that he is extremely distraught over the loss of his wife and daughter."
Funeral arrangements for Jo Ann and Adrienne Bain had not yet been made. Livingston said the FBI has asked that the surviving children not go out in public. They were to be interviewed by authorities on Saturday, he said.
Mayes' mother-in-law, Josie Tate, said Mayes believed he was the father of the two younger girls, but she later said she didn't believe that was true. Mayes' wife, Teresa, told authorities he killed the mother and older child so he could abduct the other two children.
In 2010, deputies investigated Adam Mayes after a relative claimed that he had child pornography and that she saw him nude while he was shaving the legs of a nude 7-year-old girl. But Mayes was never charged — Madison County Sheriff's officials said the accusations were unfounded, and Mayes said the relative was trying to get back at him for something.
The Associated Press does not name alleged victims of sexual abuse and is not identifying the child in that case because of the nature of the allegations.
Authorities are trying to find out if anyone may have helped Adam Mayes in the latest case, and others could face charges. Mark Gwyn, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, would not say whether there was specific evidence that others had helped Mayes.
Speaking Friday on NBC's "Today" show, Tate said her daughter would have helped Adam Mayes only because he was a "control freak" who made his wife cut all ties with her family.
"I'm scared about what will happen to my daughter, that she will have to take the brunt of the punishment," Tate said. "If she participated in any way, it was because she was too scared to stand up to Adam or she was brainwashed."
Associated Press reporters Kristin M. Hall and Sheila Burke in Nashville, Tenn., and Erik Schelzig in Whiteville, Tenn., contributed to this report.